Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sweet Annie Dog to Herb to Wreath

Sweet Annie, Artemisia annua is a favorite herb in my garden. It is a great addition to the back of the border filling in nicely with ferny foliage, needs no fertilizer or irrigation, has no pests, in fact it is a wonderful companion plant that calls and shelters many beneficial insects.

This plant continues to give the garden character in the winter with its reddish brown tree form that stands out and gives movement, color and texture to the landscape. Not to mention a sweet scent should you brush by it while doing winter chores.

It is such a unique herb I named our dog after it…Sweet Annie, a Jack Russell terror who has been with us now for almost 13 years. She too is a great addition to the back of the border where she digs up moles and often digs out under the fence in search of adventure. She too needs no fertilizer (although she does produce it), no irrigation, usually has no pests and is the best garden companion a garden girl could ask for.

Her white body with one brown ear gives a lot of movement and color to the landscape as she darts in and out of the garden beds looking for wild game in every season. I prefer to think of her personality as ‘sweet’ (some of my neighbor’s dogs might disagree) as her scent is dependant on whatever she has last seen fit to roll in or whatever scent I choose to bathe her in after.

Many of you may be familiar with Sweet Annie in herb wreaths. This herb is flexible and full, perfect for wreath making just before and during its bloom time. I made this one in September and it will be a lasting memory of summer in the garden all winter with it's wonderful scent. You can read about this herb and many others in my book "The Cracked Pot Herb Book" available on my website.

Grapes in Abundance

Grapes in the garden provide shade, fruit for culinary adventures and pliable vines for wreaths or anything in the garden or home that needs a little extra help in the funk department.

This year I had such an abundance of grapes that I was able to share (or redistribute?) the wealth with friends, neighbors and the birds of course.

The grapes were already established on a fence in the backyard when we bought the property seven years ago. Every winter I prune the vines back and make sure the wire that runs alone the fence to hold the meandering vines is in good repair.

If you haven’t guessed by now from the picture, they are concord grapes with large seeds. The color is deep, flavor is incredible - maybe even taste purple (Under the Tuscan Sun) but the seeds slow you down if you are trying to eat a handful while you are suppose to be gathering veggies from the kitchen garden these grapes border.
I decided to make grape jelly this year so I harvested a couple of huge baskets and got to work. After I washed the huge clusters I laid them out on towels to dry.
Next I plopped them into a large heavy stainless steel stock pot, added some water, set the temperature on med-low and put the cover on.

When they softened, I took them off the heat and put them in a stainless steel, heavy duty colander that nested in another stainless steel stock pot to catch all the juice. I mashed (pressed) the poor things until I had all the juice out and nothing but pulp left in the colander. I feed the skins and seeds to the compost pile…I wonder how many concord grapes will be coming up in the spring?

I wanted to put them in a jelly bag or cheese cloth but I could not find any so I determined the juice in the pan looked clear enough for jelly (for me and my family).

Next I followed the directions on the powdered pectin box – I bought some for low sugar and used half the amount of sugar. The jelly jars were still hot in the dishwasher (I used the sterilize setting). I put the lids and rings in boiling water so they were ready.

I ladled the hot jelly into the jelly jars, wiped off any sticky business, placed the lid on and screwed the ring nice and tight. I set them in a group on the counter and waited for them to seal. Some folks water bath…I chose not to for these batches of grape jelly.

Later I checked and all had sealed so I wrote the date and other notations like ½ sugar. I did make a batch with full sugar for all my sweet friends.

As you can see they came out “pretty as a picture” and a real treat at the breakfast table!